UC Berkeley study suggests San Francisco police policy reduces crime

Casey Zhang/Staff

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The San Francisco Police Department’s recent decision to reassign dozens of officers to foot patrol has led to a significant drop in assaults and thefts, a UC Berkeley study has found.

The study, conducted by researchers at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy and published Wednesday by the California Policy Lab, found that assaults and larceny thefts dropped significantly.

Specifically, the researchers observed a 19 percent decline in assaults and a 17 percent drop in larceny thefts. Vehicle theft rates also dropped, though the observed time period saw an increase in the number of suspicious occurrences and robberies. Drug offenses and fraud occurrences remained relatively unchanged.

Campus public policy and biostatistics doctoral student Maura Lievano and her adviser Steven Raphael, a campus professor of public policy, conducted the study by analyzing publicly available crime statistics from San Francisco in the two months before and after the policy was implemented.

“Basically what the SFPD … decided to do in the summer of 2017 was to reassign about 3.5 percent of officers to uniform police beats in heavily trafficked areas,” Raphael said. “We noticed statistically significant declines in larceny thefts during that timing.”

According to Raphael, the debate on whether or not to increase the number of uniformed police officers on city streets has lasted for decades, but there is now a general consensus that this tactic does, indeed, lead to a decrease in crime.

The theory that increased police presence reduces theft is not a new one, according to Raphael.

“How you use your police is a tactical decision,” Raphael said. “It’s going to depend on the type of city you have. You’re going to expect more officers who are on foot (patrol) in cities.”

SFPD Chief Bill Scott said in a press release that the foot patrol strategy is based on “deterrence” and “engagement.” Scott added that the data from this study affirms SFPD’s decision to increase the number of visible, uniformed officers, which has benefited public safety.

Lievano and Raphael plan to continue their research and publish a second paper in this two-part study. In the second part of the study, the researchers plan to explore the results at a block level, observing the areas in which there was a decrease in assault and theft and those in which there was not.

One of the important takeaways from the study, according to Lievano, is that putting more money into politics is not required in order to make positive changes.

“What they did is just take people out of the office and put them in the street,” Lievano said. “You don’t have to look for more money to make things better — just look for a better way of rearranging things.”

Contact Sri Medicherla at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sri_medicherla.